The Phenomenology of Mind

HEGEL wrote the Phenomenology of Mind in 1806 in Jena while the Napoleonic armies were approaching that city. He finished it as the battle of Jena sealed the fate of Prussia and enthroned the heir of the French Revolution over the powerless remnants of the old German Reich. The feeling that a new epoch in world history had just begun pervades Hegel’s book. It marks his first philosophical judgment on history and draws its final conclusions from the French Revolution, which now becomes the turning point of the historical as well as the philosophical way to truth.

Hegel saw that the result of the French Revolution was not the realization of freedom, but the establishment of a new despotism. He interpreted its course and its issue not as a historical accident, but as a necessary development. The process of emancipating the individual necessarily results in terror and destruction as long as it is carried out by individuals against the state, and not by the state itself. The state alone can provide emancipation, though it cannot provide perfect truth and perfect freedom. These last are to be found only in the proper realm of mind, in morality, religion, and philosophy. We have already encountered this sphere as the realization of truth and freedom in Hegel’s first Philosophy of Mind. There, however they were founded on an adequate state order and remained in an intrinsic connection with it. This connection is all but lost in the Phenomenology of Mind. The state ceases now to have an all-embracing significance. Freedom and reason are made activities of the pure mind and do not require a definite social and political order as a pre-condition, but are compatible with the already existing state.

We may assume that his experience of the breakdown of liberal ideas in the history of his own time drove Hegel to take refuge in the pure mind, and that for philosophy’s sake he preferred reconciliation with the prevailing system to the terrible contingencies of a new upheaval. The reconciliation that now takes place between philosophical idealism and the given society announces itself not so much as a change in the Hegelian system as such, but as a change in the treatment and function of the dialectic. In the preceding periods the dialectic was oriented to the actual process of history rather than to the end-product of this process. The sketchy form of the Jenenser Philosophy of Mind strengthened the impression that something new could yet happen to the mind, and that its development was far from concluded. Furthermore, the Jenenser system elaborated the dialectic in the concrete process of labor and of social integration. In the Phenomenology of Mind the antagonisms of this concrete dimension are leveled and harmonized. ‘The world becomes Mind’ takes on the meaning not only that the world in its totality becomes the adequate arena in which the plans of mankind are to be fulfilled, but also means that the world itself reveals a steady progress towards the absolute truth, that nothing new can happen to mind, or, that everything that does happen to it eventually contributes to its advancement. There are, of course, failures and repulses; progress by no means takes place in a straight line, but is produced by the interplay of ceaseless conflicts. The negativity, as we shall see, remains the source and the motive power of the movement. Every failure and every setback, however, possesses its proper good and its proper truth. Every conflict implies its own solution. The change in Hegel’s point of view becomes manifest in the unshakable certainty with which he determines the end of the process. The mind, despite all deviations and defeats, despite misery and deterioration, will attain its goal, or, rather, has attained it, in the prevailing social system. The negativity seems to be a secure stage in the growth of mind rather than the force that goads it beyond; the opposition in the dialectic appears as a wilful play rather than a struggle of life and death.

Hegel conceived the Phenomenology of Mind as an introduction to his philosophical system. During the execution of the work he altered his original plan, however. Knowing that he would not be able to publish the rest of his system in the near future, he incorporated large parts of it into his introduction. The extreme difficulties that the book offers are, to a great extent, due to this procedure.

As an introductory volume, the work intends to lead human understanding from the realm of daily experience to that of real philosophical knowledge, to absolute truth. This truth is the same that Hegel had already demonstrated in the Jenenser system, namely, the knowledge and process of the world as mind. The world in reality is not as it appears, but as it is comprehended by philosophy. Hegel begins with the experience of the ordinary consciousness in everyday life. He shows that this mode of experience, like any other, contains elements that undermine its confidence in its ability to perceive ‘the real,’ and force the search to proceed to ever higher modes of understanding. The advance to these higher modes is thus an internal process of experience and is not produced from without.

If man pays strict attention to the results of his experience, he will abandon one type of knowledge and proceed to another; he will go from sense-certainty to perception, from perception to understanding, from understanding to self-certainty, until he reaches the truth of reason.

Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind thus presents the immanent history of human experience. This is not, to be sure, the experience of common sense, but one already shaken in its security, overlaid with the feeling that it does not possess the whole truth. It is an experience already en route to real knowledge. The reader who is to understand the various parts of the work must already dwell in the ‘element of philosophy.’ The ‘We’ that appears so often denotes not everyday men but philosophers.

The factor that determines the course of this experience is the changing relation between consciousness and its objects. If the philosophizing subject adheres to its objects and lets itself be guided by their meaning, it will find that the objects undergo a change by which their form as well as their relation to the subject alters. When experience begins, the object seems a stable entity, independent of consciousness; subject and object appear to be alien to one another. The progress of knowledge, however, reveals that the two do not subsist in isolation. It becomes clear that the object gets its objectivity from the subject. ‘The real,’ which consciousness actually holds in the endless flux of sensations and perceptions, is a universal that cannot be reduced to objective elements free of the subject (for example, quality, thing, force, laws). In other words, the real object is constituted by the (intellectual) activity of the subject; somehow, it essentially ‘pertains’ to the subject. The latter discovers that it itself stands ‘behind’ the objects, that the world becomes real only by force of the comprehending power of consciousness.

This is, however, at first nothing but a re-statement of the case of transcendental idealism, or, as Hegel says, it is a truth only ‘for us,’ the philosophizing subjects, and not yet a truth manifested in the objective world. Hegel goes further. He says, self-consciousness has yet to demonstrate that it is the true reality; it must actually make the world its free realization. Referring to this task, Hegel declares the subject to be ‘absolute negativity,’ signifying that it has the power to negate every given condition and to make it its own conscious work. This is not an epistemological activity and cannot be carried out solely within the process of knowledge, for that process cannot be severed from the historical struggle between man and his world, a struggle that is itself a constitutive part of the way to truth and of the truth itself. The subject must make the world its own doing if it is to recognize itself as the only reality. The process of knowledge becomes the process of history.

We have already reached this conclusion in the Jenenser Philosophy of Mind. Self-consciousness carries itself into the life-and-death struggle among individuals. From here on, Hegel links the epistemological process of self-consciousness (from sense-certainty to reason) with the historical process of mankind from bondage to freedom. The ‘modes or forms [Gestalten] of consciousness’ appear simultaneously as objective historical realities, ‘states of the world’ (Weltzustände). The constant transition from philosophical to historical analysis – which has often been criticized as a confusion, or an arbitrary metaphysical interpretation of history – is intended to verify and demonstrate the historical character of the basic philosophical concepts. All of them comprehend and retain actual historical stages in the development of mankind. Each form of consciousness that appears in the immanent progress of knowledge crystallizes as the life of a given historical epoch. The process leads from the Greek city-state to the French Revolution.

Hegel describes the French Revolution as the unloosing of a ‘self-destructive’ freedom, self-destructive because the consciousness that strove here to change the world in accordance with its subjective interests had not yet found its truth. In other words, man did not discover his real interest, he did not freely place himself under laws that secure his own freedom and that of the whole. The new state created by the Revolution, Hegel says, only altered the external form of the objective world, making it a medium for the subject, but it did not achieve the subject’s essential freedom.

The achievement of the latter takes place in the transition from the French revolutionary era to that of German idealist culture. The realization of true freedom is thus transferred from the plane of history to the inner realm of the mind. Hegel says: ‘absolute freedom leaves its self-destructive sphere of reality [that is, the historical epoch of the French Revolution] and passes over into another realm, that of the self-conscious mind. Here, freedom is held to be true in so far as it is unreal ...’ This new realm had been a discovery of Kant’s ethical idealism. Within it, the autonomous individual gives himself the unconditional duty to obey universal laws that he imposes upon himself of his own free will. Hegel did not, however, regard this ‘realm’ as the final abode of reason. The conflict that developed from Kant’s reconciliation of the individual with the universal, a conflict between the dictate of duty and the desire for happiness, forced the individual to seek the truth in other solutions. He looks for it in art and religion and finally finds it in the ‘absolute knowledge’ of dialectical philosophy. There, all opposition between consciousness and its object is overcome; the subject possesses and knows the world as its own reality, as reason.

The Phenomenology of Mind in this way leads up to the Logic. The latter unfolds the structure of the universe, not in the changing forms that it has for knowledge that is not yet absolute, but in its true essence. It presents ‘the truth in its true form.’ Just as the experience with which the Phenomenology began was not everyday experience, the knowledge with which it ends is not traditional philosophy, but a philosophy that has absorbed the truth of all previous philosophies and with it all the experience mankind has accumulated during its long trek to freedom. It is a philosophy of a self-conscious humanity that lays claim to a mastery of men and things and to its right to shape the world accordingly, a philosophy that enunciates the highest ideals of modern individualist society.

After this brief preliminary survey of the broad perspective of the Phenomenology of Mind, we now turn to a discussion of its principal conceptions in greater detail. The Preface to the Phenomenology is one of the greatest philosophical undertakings of all times, constituting no less an attempt than to reinstate philosophy as the highest form of human knowledge, as ‘the Science.’ We shall here limit ourselves to its main points.

Hegel starts with a critical analysis of the philosophic currents of the turn of the eighteenth century, and proceeds to develop his concept of philosophy and philosophic truth. Knowledge has its source in the vision that essence and existence are distinct in the various cognitive processes. The objects it gets in immediate experience fail to satisfy knowledge, because they are accidental and incomplete, and it turns to seek the truth in the notion of objects, convinced that the right notion is not a mere subjective intellectual form, but the essence of things. This, however, is but the first step of knowledge. Its major effort is to demonstrate and expound the relation between essence and existence, between the truth preserved in the notion and the actual state in which things exist.

The various sciences differ from each other by the way in which the objects they deal with are related to their truth. This is confusing unless one bears in mind that for Hegel truth signifies a form of existence as well as of knowledge, and that, consequently, the relation between a being and its truth is an objective relation of things themselves. Hegel illustrates this conception by contrasting mathematical and philosophical knowledge. The essence or ‘nature’ of the right-angle triangle is that its sides are related just as the Pythagorean proposition has it; but this truth is ‘outside’ the triangle. The proof of the proposition consists in a process carried on solely by the knowing subject. ‘. ... the triangle ... is taken to pieces, and its parts made into other figures to which the construction gives rise in the triangle.’ The necessity for the construction does not arise from the nature or notion of the triangle. ‘The process of mathematical proof does not belong to the object; it is a function that takes place outside of the matter in hand. The nature of a right-angled triangle does not break itself up into factors in the manner set forth in the mathematical construction which is required to prove the proposition expressing the relation of its parts. The entire process of producing the result is an affair of knowledge which takes its own way of going about it.’ In other words, the truth about mathematical objects exists outside of themselves, in the knowing subject. These objects, therefore, are in a strict sense untrue and unessential ‘external’ entities.

The objects of philosophy, on the other hand, bear an intrinsic relation to their truth. For example, the principle that ‘the nature of man requires freedom and that freedom is a form of reason’ is not a truth imposed upon man by an arbitrary philosophical theory, but can be proved to be the inherent aim of man, his very reality. Its proof is not advanced by the external process of knowledge but by the history of man. In philosophy, the relation of an object to its truth is an actual happening (Geschehen). To come back to the example, man finds that he is not free, that he is separated from his truth, leading a fortuitous, untrue existence. Freedom is something he must acquire by overcoming his bondage, and he acquires it when he eventually knows his true potentialities. Freedom presupposes conditions that render freedom possible, namely, conscious and rational mastery of the world. The known history of mankind verifies the truth of this conclusion. The notion of man is his history, as apprehended by philosophy. Thus, essence and existence are actually interrelated in philosophy, and the process of proving the truth there has to do with the existing object itself. The essence arises in the process of existence, and conversely, the process of existence is a ‘return’ to the essence.

Philosophical knowledge aims only at the ‘essentials’ that have a constitutive bearing upon man’s destiny and that of his world. The sole object of philosophy is the world in its true form, the world as reason. Reason, again, comes into its own only with the development of mankind. Philosophic truth, therefore, is quite definitely concerned with man’s existence; it is his innermost prod and goal. This, in the last analysis, is the meaning of the statement that truth is immanent in the object of philosophy. The truth fashions the very existence of the object and is not, as in mathematics, indifferent to it. Existing in truth is a matter of life (and death), and the way to truth is not only an epistemological but also a historical process. This relation between truth and existence distinguishes the philosophic method. A mathematical truth may be arrested in one proposition; the proposition is true and its contradictory is false. In philosophy, the truth is a real process that cannot be put into a proposition. ‘The abstract or unreal is not its element and content, but the real, what is self-establishing, has life within itself, existence in its very notion. It is the process that creates its own moments in its course, and goes through them all; and the whole of this movement constitutes its positive content, and its truth.” No single proposition can grasp this process. For instance, the proposition, ‘The nature of man is freedom in reason,’ is, if taken by itself, untrue. It omits all the facts that make up the meaning of freedom and of reason, and that are assembled in the whole historical drive towards freedom and reason. Furthermore, the proposition is false in so far as freedom and reason can only appear as the result of the historical process. The conquest of bondage and irrationality, and hence bondage and irrationality themselves, are essential parts of the truth. Falsehood here is as necessary and real as truth. The falsehood must be conceived as the ‘mistaken form’ or untruth of the real object – this object in its untrue existence; the false is the ‘otherness, the negative aspect of the substance,’ but none the less a part of it and hence constitutive in its truth.

The dialectical method conforms to this structure that the philosophic object has, and attempts to reconstruct and follow its real movement. A philosophic system is true only if it includes the negative state and the positive, and reproduces the process of becoming false and then returning to truth. As a system of this kind, the dialectic is the true method of philosophy. It shows that the object with which it deals exists in a state of ‘negativity,’ which the object, through the pressures of its own existence, throws off in the process of regaining its truth.

If, then, in philosophy, no single proposition is true apart from the whole, in what sense is the whole system true? The dialectical system alters the structure and meaning of the proposition and makes it something quite different from the proposition of traditional logic. The latter logic, to which Hegel alludes as ‘the logic of common sense,’ meaning the logic of traditional scientific method as well, treats propositions as consisting of a subject, which serves as a fixed and stable base, and a predicate attached to it. The predicates are the accidental properties, or, in Hegel’s language, ‘determinations’ of a more or less fixed substance.

As a contrast to this view of the proposition, Hegel sets the ‘speculative judgment’ in philosophy. The speculative judgment does not have a stable and passive subject. Its subject is active and develops itself into its predicates. The predicates are various forms of the subject’s existence. Or, to state it somewhat differently, what happens is that the subject ‘goes under’ (geht zu Grunde) and turns into the predicate. The speculative judgment thus shakes ‘the solid base’ of the traditional proposition ‘to its foundations, and the only object is this very movement of the subject.’ For example, the proposition God is Being, taken as a speculative judgment, does not mean that the subject, God, ‘possesses’ or ‘supports’ the predicate ‘Being’ among many other predicates; but that the subject, God, ‘passes’ into Being. ‘Being’ here is ‘not predicate but the essential nature’ of God. The subject God ‘seems to cease to be what He was when the proposition was put forward, viz. a fixed subject,’ and to become the predicate.” Whereas the traditional judgment and proposition imply a clear distinction of subject from predicate, the speculative judgment subverts and destroys ‘the nature of judgment or of the proposition in general.’ It strikes the decisive blow against traditional formal logic. The subject becomes the predicate without at the same time becoming identical with it. The process cannot be adequately expressed in a single proposition; ‘the proposition as it appears is a mere empty form.’ The locus of truth is not the proposition, but the dynamic system of speculative judgments in which every single judgment must he ‘sublated’ by another, so that only the whole process represents the truth.

The traditional logic and the traditional concept of truth are ‘shaken to their foundations’ not by philosophic fiat but by insight into the dynamic of reality. The speculative judgment has for its content the objective process of reality in its essential, ‘comprehended form,’ not in its appearance. In this very basic sense, Hegel’s change from traditional to material logic marked the first step in the direction of unifying theory and practice. His protest against the fixed and formal ‘truth’ of traditional logic was in effect a protest against divorcing truth and its forms from concrete processes; a protest against severing truth from any direct guiding influence on reality.

In Germany, idealistic philosophy championed the right of theory to guide practice. For idealistic philosophy represented the most advanced form of consciousness that then prevailed, and the idea of a world permeated with freedom and reason had no securer refuge than was offered by this remote sphere of culture. The subsequent development of European thought cannot be understood apart from its idealist origins.

A thorough analysis of the Phenomenology of Mind would require more than a volume. We may forego that analysis, since the latter parts of the work deal with problems we have already outlined in the discussion of the Jenenser system. We shall confine our interpretation to the opening sections, which elaborate the dialectical method in great detail and set the pattern for the entire work.

Knowledge begins when philosophy destroys the experience of daily life. Analysis of this experience is the starting point of the search for truth. The object of experience is first given through the senses and takes the form of sense-knowledge or sense-certainty (sinnliche Gewissheit). Characteristic of this kind of experience is the fact that its subject as well as its object appears as an ‘individual this,’ here and now. I see this house, here at this particular place and at this particular moment. The house is taken as ‘real’ and seems to exist per se. The ‘I’ that sees it seems to be unessential, ‘can as well be as not be,’ and ‘only knows the object because the object exists.’

If we analyze a bit, we see that what is known in this experience, what sense-certainty holds as its invariant own amid the flux of impressions, is not the object, the house, but the Here and the Now. If I turn my head, the house disappears and some other object appears, which, with another turn of my head, will likewise disappear. To keep hold of and to define the actual content of sense-certainty I must refer to the Here and Now as the only elements that remain permanent in the continuous change of objective data. What is the Here and Now? Here is a house, but it is likewise not a house but a tree, a street, a man, and so on. Now is daytime, but somewhat later now is night, then morning, and so on. The Now remains identical throughout the differences of day, night, or morning. Moreover, it is Now just because it is neither day, nor night, nor any other moment of time. It preserves itself through the negation of all other moments of time. In other words, the Now exists as something negative; its being is a non-being. The same holds true for Here. Here is neither the house nor the tree nor the street, but what ‘is and remains in the disappearance of the house, tree, and so on, and is indifferently house, tree.’ That is to say, the Now and the Here are something Universal. Hegel says an entity ‘which is by and through negation, which is neither this nor that, which is a not-this, and with equal indifference this as well as that – a thing of this kind we call a Universal.’ The analysis of sense-certainty thus demonstrates the reality of the universal and develops at the same time the philosophic notion of universality. The reality of the universal is proved by the very content of the observable facts; it exists in their process and can be grasped only in and through the particulars.

This is the first result we obtain from philosophical analysis of sense-certainty: it is not the particular, individual object, but the universal that is ‘the truth of sense-certainty, the true content of sense-experience.’ The result implies something more astonishing. Sense-experience holds it self-evident that the object is the essential, ‘the real,’ while the subject is unessential and its knowledge dependent upon the object. The true relation is now found to be ‘just the reverse of what first appeared.’ The universal has turned out to be the true content of experience. And the locus of the universal is the subject and not the object; the universal exists ‘in knowledge, which formerly was the non-essential factor.’ The object is not per se; it is ‘because I know it.’ The certainty of sense experience is thus grounded in the subject; it is, as Hegel says, banished from the object, and forced back into the ‘I’.

Further analysis of sense-experience reveals that the ‘I’ goes through the same dialectical process as the object, showing itself to be something universal. At first, the individual I, my ego, seems the sole stable point in the flux of sense data. ‘The disappearance of the particular Now and Here that we mean is prevented by the fact that I keep hold of them.’ I assert that it is daytime and that I see a house. I record this truth, and someone else reading it later may assert that it is night and that he sees a tree. ‘Both truths have the same authenticity’ and both become false with a change of time and place. The truth, therefore, cannot attach to a particular individual I. If I say I see a house here and now, I imply that everyone could take my place as subject of this perception. I assume ‘the I qua universal, whose seeing is neither the seeing of this tree nor of this house, but just seeing.’ just as the Here and Now are universal as against their individual content, so the I is universal as against all individual I’s.

The idea of a universal I is an abomination to common sense, though everyday language makes constant use of it. When I say “I” see, hear, and so on, I put everybody in my place, substitute any other I for my individual I. ‘When I say “I,” “this individual,” I say quite generally “all I’s,” everyone is what I say, everyone is “I,” this individual I’.

Sense-experience thus discovers that truth lies neither with its particular object nor with the individual I. The truth is the result of a double process of negation, namely, (1) the negation of the ‘per se’ existence of the object, and (2) the negation of the individual I with the shifting of the truth to the universal I. Objectivity is thus twice ‘mediated’ or constructed by consciousness and henceforward remains tied to consciousness. The development of the objective world is throughout interwoven in the development of consciousness.

Common sense resents such a destruction of its truth and claims that it can indicate the exact particular Here and Now it means. Hegel accepts the challenge. ‘Let us, then, see how that immediate Here and Now which is shown to us is constituted.’ When I point to a particular Now, ‘it has already ceased to be by the time it is pointed out. The Now that is, is other than the one indicated, and we see that the Now is just this – to be when it no longer is.’ Pointing to the Now is thus a process involving the following stages: (1) I point to the Now and assert that it is thus and so. ‘I point it out, however, as something that has been.’ In so doing, I cancel the first truth and assert (2) that the Now has been, and that such is the truth. But what has been, is not. Thus, (3) I cancel the second truth, negate the negation of the Now, and assert it again as true. This Now, however, which results from the whole process, is not the Now that common sense first meant. It is indifferent to present or past. It is the Now that is past, the one that is present, and so on, and is in all this one and the same Now. In other words, it is something universal.

Sense-experience has thus itself demonstrated that its real content is not the particular but the universal. ‘The dialectic process involved in sense-certainty is nothing else than the mere history of its process – of its experience; and sense-certainty itself is nothing else than simply this history.’ Experience itself passes to a higher mode of knowledge, which aims at the universal. Sense-certainty turns into perception.

Perception (Wahrnehmung) is distinguished from sense-certainty by the fact that its ‘principle’ is universality. The objects of perception are things (Dinge), and things remain identical in the changes of Here and Now. For example, I call this thing I perceive here and now ‘salt.’ I refer not to the particular heres and nows in which it is present to me but to a specific unity in the diversity of its ‘properties’ (Eigenschaften). I refer to the ‘thinghood’ of the thing. The salt is white, cubical in shape, and so on. These properties in themselves are universal, common to many things. The thing itself seems to be nothing but the ‘simple togetherness’ of such properties, their general ‘medium.’ But it is more than such simple togetherness. Its properties are not arbitrary and exchangeable, but rather ‘exclude and negate’ other properties. If the salt is white and pungent, it cannot be black and sweet. The exclusion is not an arbitrary matter of definition; on the contrary, the definition is dependent on the data offered by the thing itself. It is the salt that excludes and negates certain properties that contradict its ‘being salt.’ The thing is thus not a ‘unity indifferent to what it is, but ... an excluding, repelling unity.’

So far, the object seems to be a definite one, which perception merely has to accept and to ‘take unto itself’ passively. Perception, like sense-experience, first gathers the truth from the object. But, like sense-experience also, it discovers that the subject itself constitutes the objectivity of the thing. For when perception attempts to determine what the thing really is, it plunges into a series of contradictions. The thing is a unity and at the same time a multiplicity. The contradiction cannot be avoided by assigning the two aspects to each of the two factors of perception, so that unity is attached to the consciousness of the subject and the multiplicity to the object. Hegel shows that this would only lead to new contradictions. Nor does it help to assume that the thing is really a unity and that the multiplicity is produced by its relation to other things. All such attempts to escape the contradiction only serve to demonstrate that it is inescapable and constitutes the very content of perception. The thing is in itself unity and difference, unity in difference. Hegel’s further analysis of this relationship leads to a new determination of universality. The real universal contains diversity and at the same time maintains itself as an ‘excluding and repelling’ unity in all particular conditions. In this way, the analysis of perception goes beyond the point reached in the analysis of sense-experience. The universal now denoted as the true content of knowledge bears a different character. The unity of the thing is not only determined but constituted by its relation to other things, and its thinghood consists in this very relation. The salt, for example, is what it is only in relation to our taste, to the food to which it is added, to sugar, and so on. The thing salt, to be sure, is more than the mere ‘togetherness’ of such relations; it is a unity in and for itself, but this unity exists only in these relations and is nothing ‘behind’ or outside them. The thing becomes itself through its opposition to other things; it is, as Hegel says, the unity of itself with its opposite, or, of being-for-itself with being-for-another. In other words, the very ‘substance’ of the thing must be gleaned from its self-established relation to other things. This, however, is not within the power of perception to accomplish; it is the work of (conceptual) understanding.

The analysis of perception produced ‘unity in difference’ or the ‘unconditioned universal’ as the true form of the object of knowledge, unconditioned because the unity of the thing asserts itself despite and through all delimiting conditions. When perception attempted to grasp the real content of its object, the ‘thing’ turned out to be a self-constituting unity in a diversity of relations to other things. Hegel now introduces the concept of force to explain how the thing is held together as a self-determining unity in this process. The substance of the thing, he says, can only be understood as force.

The concept of force takes in all the elements that philosophic analysis has so far found to be characteristic of the real object of knowledge. Force is itself a relation, the elements of which are distinct and yet not separate from each other; it is in all conditions not contingent but necessarily determined by itself. [See the Jenenser Logik, p. 50. Force ‘combines in itself the two sides of the relation, the identity and the difference ... Conceived as Force, the substance is Cause in itself ... Force is the very determinateness that makes the substance this determinate substance and at the same time posits it as relating Itself to its opposite.’] We shall not follow the details of Hegel’s discussion of this concept, but shall limit ourselves to its conclusions.

If we take the substance of things to be force, we actually split reality into two dimensions. We transcend the perceptible properties of things and reach something beyond and behind them, which we define as ‘the real.’ For, force is not an entity in the world of perception; it is not a thing or quality we can point to, such as white or cubical. We can only perceive the effect or expression of it, and for us its existence consists in this expression of itself. Force is nothing apart from its effect; its being consists entirely in this coming to be and passing away. If the substance of things is force, their mode of existing turns out to be appearance. For, a being that exists only as ‘vanishing,’ one that ‘is per se straightway non-being, we call ... a semblance (Schein).’ The term appearance or semblance has for Hegel a twofold meaning. It means first that a thing exists in such a way that its existence is different from its essence; secondly, it means that that which appears is not mere seeming (blosser Schein), but is the expression of an essence that exists only as appearing.

In other words, the appearance is not a non-being but is the appearance of the essence.

The discovery that force is the substance of things gives the process of knowledge insight into the realm of essence. The world of sense-experience and perception is the realm of appearance. The realm of essence is a ‘supersensible’ world beyond this changing and evanescent realm of appearance. Hegel calls this early vision of the essence ‘the first and therefore imperfect manifestation of Reason’ – imperfect because consciousness still finds its truth, ‘in the form of an object,’ that is, as something opposed to the subject. The realm of essence comes forth as the ‘inner’ world of things. It remains ‘for consciousness a bare and simple beyond, because consciousness does not as yet find itself in it.’

But truth cannot remain eternally out of reach of the subject if man is to escape from an untrue existence in an untrue world. The ensuing analysis therefore buckles down to the task of showing that behind the appearance of thing) is the subject itself, who constitutes their very essence. Hegel’s insistence that the subject be recognized behind the appearance of things is an expression of the basic desire of idealism that man transform the estranged world into a world of his own. The Phenomenology of Mind accordingly follows through by merging the sphere of epistemology with the world of history, passing from the discovery of the subject to the task of mastering reality through self-conscious practice.

The concept of force leads to the transition from consciousness to self-consciousness. If the essence of things is conceived as force, the stability of the objective world dissolves into an interplay of movement. The concept, however, means more than a mere play. A force wields a definite power over its effects and remains itself amid its various manifestations. In other words, it acts according to an inherent ‘law,’ so that, as Hegel puts it, the truth of force is ‘the law of Force’ (das Gesetz der Kraft). The realm of essence is not, as it first seemed, a blind play of forces, but a domain of permanent laws determining the form of the perceptible world. While the multiplicity of these forms seems at first to require a corresponding multitude of laws, further analysis discloses that the diversity is but a deficient aspect of the truth, and knowledge, in setting out to unify the many laws into an over-arching single law, succeeds in this early phase in gleaning the general form of such. Knowledge finds that things exist under a law if they have ‘gathered and preserved all the moments of their appearance’ into their inner essence and are capable of preserving their essential identity in their relations to all things. This identity of the ‘substance,’ as we have already indicated, must be understood as the specific work of a ‘subject’ that is essentially a constant process of ‘unification of opposites.’ The previous analysis has disclosed that the essence of things is force, and the essence of force, law. Force under law is what characterizes the self-conscious subject. The essence of the objective world thus points to the existence of the self-conscious subject. Understanding finds nothing but itself when it seeks the essence behind the appearance of things. It is manifest that behind the so-called curtain, which is to hide the inner world, there is nothing to be seen unless we ourselves go behind there, as much in order that we may thereby see, as that there may be something behind there which can be seen .’ The truth of understanding is self-consciousness. The first chapter of the Phenomenology has come to a close and the history of self-consciousness begins.

Before we follow this history, we must evaluate the general significance of the first chapter. The reader learns that behind the curtain of appearance is not an unknown thing-in-itself, but the knowing subject. Self-consciousness is the essence of things. We usually say this is the step from Kant to Hegel, that is, from critical to absolute idealism. But to say only that is to omit the purpose that drove Hegel to make this transition.

The first three sections of the Phenomenology are critique of positivism [Positivism is used as a general term for the philosophy of ‘common sense’ experience] and, even more, of reification. To begin with the latter, Hegel attempts to show that mar can know the truth only if he breaks through his ‘reified world. We borrow the term ‘reification’ from the Marxist theory, where it denotes the fact that all relations between men in the world of capitalism appear as relations between things, or, that what in the social world seem to be the relations of things and ‘natural’ laws that regulate their movement are in reality relations of men and historical forces. The commodity, for instance, embodies in all its qualities the social relations of labor; capital is the power of disposing over men; and so on. By virtue of the inversion, the world has become an alienated estranged world, in which man does not recognize or fulfill himself, but is overpowered by dead things and laws Hegel hit upon the same fact within the dimension of philosophy. Common sense and traditional scientific thought take the world as a totality of things, more or less existing per se, and seek the truth in objects that art taken to be independent of the knowing subject. This is more than an epistemological attitude; it is as pervasive as the practice of men and leads them to accept the feeling that they are secure only in knowing and handling objective facts. The more remote an idea is from the impulses, interests, and wants of the living subject, the more true it becomes. And this, according to Hegel, is the utmost defamation of truth. For there is, in the last analysis, no truth that does not essentially concern the living subject and that is not the subject’s truth. The world is an estranged and untrue world so long as man does not destroy its dead objectivity and recognize himself and his own life ‘behind’ the fixed form of things and laws. When he finally wins this self-consciousness, he is on his way not only to the truth of himself but also of his world. And with the recognition goes the doing. He will try to put this truth into action and make the world what it essentially is, namely, the fulfillment of man’s self-consciousness.

This is the impulse animating the opening sections of the Phenomenology. True practice presupposes true knowledge and the latter is endangered above all by the positivist claim. Positivism, the philosophy of common sense, appeals to the certainty of facts, but, as Hegel shows, in a world where facts do not at all present what reality can and ought to be, positivism amounts to giving up the real potentialities of mankind for a false and alien world. The positivist attack on universal concepts, on the ground they cannot be reduced to observable facts, cancels from the domain of knowledge everything that may not yet be a fact. In demonstrating that sense-experience and perception, to which positivism appeals, in themselves imply and mean not the particular observed fact but something universal, Hegel is giving a final immanent refutation of positivism. When he emphasizes time and again that the universal is pre-eminent over the particular, he is struggling against limiting truth to the particular ‘given.’ The universal is more than the particular. This signifies in the concrete that the potentialities of men and things are not exhausted in the given forms and relations in which they may actually appear; it means that men and things are all they have been and actually are, and yet more than all this. Setting the truth in the universal expressed Hegel’s conviction that no given particular form, whether in nature or society, embodies the whole truth. Moreover, it was a way of denouncing the isolation of men from things and of recognizing that their potentialities could not be preserved except in their redintegration.

In the treatment of self-consciousness, Hegel resumes the analysis begun in the System der Sittlichkeit and the Jenenser Philosophy of Mind, of the relation between the individual and his world. Man has learned that his own self-consciousness lies behind the appearance of things. He now sets out to realize this experience, To prove himself master of his world. Self-consciousness thus finds itself in a ‘state of desire’ (Begierde); man, awakened to self-consciousness, desires the objects around him, appropriates and uses them. But in the process he comes to feel that the objects are not the true end of his desire, but that his needs can be fulfilled only through association with other individuals. Hegel says, ‘self-consciousness attains its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.’ The meaning of this rather strange statement is explained in the discussion of lordship and bondage that follows it. The concept of labor plays a central role in this discussion in which Hegel shows that the objects of labor are not dead things but living embodiments of the subject’s essence, so that in dealing with these objects, man is actually dealing with man.

The individual can become what he is only through another individual; his very existence consists in his ‘being-for-another.’ The relation, however, is by no means one of harmonious co-operation between equally free individuals who promote the common interest in the pursuit of their own advantage. It is rather a ‘life-and-death struggle’ between essentially unequal individuals, the one a ‘master’ and the other a ‘servant.’ Fighting out the battle is the only way man can come to self-consciousness, that is, to the knowledge of his potentialities and to the freedom of their realization. The truth of self-consciousness is not the ‘I’ but the ‘We,’ ‘the ego that is We and the We that is ego.’

In 1844 Marx sharpened the basic concepts of his own theory through a critical analysis of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind. He described the ‘alienation’ of labor in the terms of Hegel’s discussion of master and servant. Marx was not familiar with the stages of Hegel’s philosophy prior to the Phenomenology, but he nevertheless caught the critical impact of Hegel’s analysis, even in the attenuated form in which social problems were permitted to enter the Phenomenology of Mind. The greatness of that work he saw in the fact that Hegel conceived the ‘self-creation’ of man (that is, the creation of a reasonable social order through man’s own free action) as the process of ‘reification’ and its ‘negation,’ in short, that he grasped the ‘nature of labor’ and saw man to be ‘the result of his labor.,” Marx makes reference to Hegel’s definitive insight, which disclosed to him that lordship and bondage result of necessity from certain relationships of labor, which are, in turn, relationships in a ‘reified’ world. The relation of lord to servant is thus neither an eternal nor a natural one, but is rooted in a definite mode of labor and in man’s relation to the products of his labor.

Hegel’s analysis actually begins with the ‘experience’ that the world in which self-consciousness must prove itself is split into two conflicting domains, the one in which man is bound to his labor so that it determines his whole existence, and the other in which man appropriates and possesses another man’s labor and becomes master by the very fact of this appropriation and possession. Hegel denotes the latter as the lord and the former as the bondsman. The bondsman is not a human being who happens to labor, but is essentially a laborer; his labor is his being. He works on objects that do not belong to him but to another. He cannot detach his existence from these objects; they constitute ‘the chain from which he cannot get away.’ He is entirely at the mercy of him who owns these objects. It must be noted that according to this exposition, dependence of man on man is neither a personal condition nor grounded in personal or natural conditions (viz. inferiority, weakness, and so on), but is ‘mediated’ by things. In other words, it is the outcome of man’s relation to the products of his labor. Labor so shackles the laborer to the objects that his consciousness itself does not exist except ‘in the form and shape of thinghood.’ He becomes a thing whose very existence consists in its being used. The being of the laborer is a ‘being-for-another.’

Labor is, however, at the same time the vehicle that transforms this relationship. The laborer’s action does not disappear when the products of his labor appear, but is preserved in them. The things labor shapes and fashions fill the social world of man, and function there as objects of labor. The laborer learns that his labor perpetuates this world; he sees and recognizes himself in the things about him. His consciousness is now ‘externalized’ in his work and has ‘Passed into the condition of permanence.’ The man who ‘toils and serves’ thus comes to view the independent being as himself. – The objects of his labor are no longer dead things that shackle him to other men, but products of his work, and, as such, part and parcel of his own being. The fact that the product of his labor is objectified does not make it ‘something other than the consciousness moulding the thing through work; for just that form is his pure self-existence, which therein becomes truly realized.’

The process of labor creates self-consciousness not only in the laborer but in the master as well. Lordship is defined chiefly by the fact that the lord commands objects he desires without working on them. He satisfies his type of need through having someone, not himself, work. His enjoyment depends upon his own freedom from labor. The laborer he controls delivers to him the objects he wants in an advanced form, ready to be enjoyed. The laborer thus preserves the lord from having to encounter the ‘negative side’ of things, that on which they become fetters on man. The lord receives all things as products of labor, not as dead objects, but as things that bear the hallmark of the subject who worked on them. When he handles these things as his property, the lord is really handling another self-consciousness, that of the laborer, the being through whom he attains his satisfaction. The lord in this wise finds that he is not an independent ‘being-for-himself,’ but is essentially dependent on another being, upon the action of him who labors for him.

Hegel has so far developed the relation of lordship and bondage as a relation each side of which recognizes that it has its essence in the other and comes to its truth only through the other. The opposition between subject and object that determined the forms of mind hitherto described has now disappeared. The object, shaped and cultivated by human labor, is in reality the objectification of a self-conscious subject. ‘Thinghood, which received its shape and form through labor, is no other substance than consciousness. In this way, we have a new mode [Gestalt] of self-consciousness brought about. We have now a consciousness which ... thinks or is free self-consciousness.’ Why this rather sudden identification of the free self-consciousness with the ‘consciousness which thinks'? Hegel goes on to a definition of thinking that answers this question in the basic terms of his philosophy. He says, the subject of thinking is not the ‘abstract ego’ but the consciousness that knows that it is the ‘substance’ of the world. Or, thinking consists in knowing that the objective world is in reality a subjective world, that it is the objectification of the subject. The subject that really thinks comprehends the world as ‘his’ world. Everything in it has its true form only as a ‘comprehended’ (begriffenes) object, namely, as part and parcel of the development of a free self-consciousness. The totality of objects that make up man’s world have to be freed from their ‘opposition’ to consciousness and must be taken up in such a way as to assist its development.

Hegel describes thinking in terms of a definite kind of existence. ‘In thinking, I am free, because I am not in an other, but remain simply and solely in touch with myself; and the object . . . is in undivided unity my being-for-myself; and my procedure in comprehending is a procedure within myself.’ This explanation of freedom shows that Hegel is connecting this basic concept with the principle of a particular form of society. He says that he is free who, in his existence with others, remains solely with himself, he who holds his existence, as it were, as his own undisputed property. Freedom is self-sufficiency and independence of all ‘externals,’ a state wherein all externality has been appropriated by the subject. The fears and anxieties of competitive society, seem to motivate this idea of freedom, the individual’s fear of losing himself and his anxiety to preserve and secure his own. It leads Hegel to give the predominant position to the ‘element of thought.’

Indeed, if freedom consists in nothing but complete self-sufficiency, if everything that is not entirely mine or myself restricts my freedom, then freedom can only be realized in thinking. We must therefore expect Hegel to treat stoicism as the first historical form of self-conscious freedom. The stoic mode of existence seems to have overcome all the restrictions that apply in nature and society. ‘The essence of this consciousness is to be free, on the throne as well as in fetters, throughout all the dependence that attaches to its individual existence ...’ Man is thus free because he ‘persistently withdraws from the movement of existence, from activity as well as endurance, into the mere essentiality of thought.’

Hegel goes on to say, however, that this is not real freedom. It is only the counterpart of ‘a time of universal fear and bondage.’ He thus repudiates this false form of freedom and corrects his statement quoted above. ‘Freedom in thought takes only pure thought as its truth, but this lacks the concrete filling of life. It is, therefore, merely the notion of freedom, not living freedom itself.’ The sections on stoicism in which these statements appear show the play of conflicting elements in his philosophy. He has demonstrated that freedom rests in the element of thought; he now insists on an advance from freedom in thought to ‘living freedom.’ He states that the freedom and independence of self-consciousness is therefore but a transitory stage in the development of mind towards real freedom. The latter dimension is reached when man abandons the abstract freedom of thought and enters into the world in full consciousness that it is ‘his own’ world. The ‘hitherto negative attitude’ of self-consciousness towards reality ‘turns into a positive attitude. So far it has been concerned merely with its own independence and freedom; it has sought to keep itself “for itself’ at the’ expense of the world or its own actuality ...’ Now, it discovers the world as its own new and real world, which in its permanence possesses an interest for it.’ The subject conceives the world as its own ‘presence’ and truth; it is certain of finding only itself there.

This process is the process of history itself. The self-conscious subject attains his freedom not in the form of the ‘I’ but of the ‘We’, the associated ‘We’ that first appeared as the outcome of the struggle between lord and bondsman. The historical reality of that We ‘finds its actual fulfillment in the life of a nation.’ We have indicated that the subsequent course of the mind in the first pages of this chapter. At the end of the road, pure thought again seems to swallow up living freedom: the realm of ‘absolute knowledge’ is enthroned above the historical struggle that closed when the French Revolution was liquidated. The self-certainty of philosophy comprehending the world triumphs over the practice that changes it. We shall see whether this solution was Hegel’s last word.

The foundations of the absolute knowledge that the Phenomenology of Mind presents as the truth of the world are given in Hegel’s Science of Logic, to which we now turn.